The Writer's Guide to SEO Keyword Usage (Part 1) - It is, but isn't, About Finding Them
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SEO, or Search Engine Optimization, is a commonly used term that has become something of a must-know for writers in recent years, but the idea is misleading in the way it is currently presented and thought of. Yes, keywords and their usage are essential, but not what SEO is all about.
What is SEO?
SEO is a broad term for optimizing any form of online content and applies to everything from the article or blog you are writing, to the pictures you are uploading to Facebook and your website. Generally, SEO specialists will tell you where and how to strategically place these words and phrases for Google to find as quickly as possible. While keywords do play a major role, there is so much more to the art than research and placement.
What is meant by optimization?
When optimizing online content you are making it easier for Google, and therefore people, customers, and engagers, to find you. To do this, you need to place your words so that they are discovered and sorted as quickly as possible by the all mighty web. That isn’t all though, once found, those words and their context then have to keep the reader engaged, that’s trickier. Even trumping engagement though, is the fact that you probably have an end goal, which I assume is conversion ( I don’t know why you would be writing the content otherwise anyways?), that’s the hardest part.
The placement of specific words only optimizes your content for the bots, not your audience. If you have a hundred keywords in all the correct places throughout your article, that doesn’t mean your reader is going to think it is well written and informative enough to finish reading to the end. That is one possible conversion lost without even the chance to see what it is you have to offer.
Optimization is when you capture the audiences (and Google’s) attention from beginning to close so that you can reach your end goal.
...and you thought SEO was about keyword placement, pshhh.
THE SEO PROGRAM
How People Search and How it Relates to SEO
Think of any time you go online to find something. Whether you are shopping online or trying to figure out how to stream the NFL Sunday Ticket on your Apple TV, you need to input words into that search bar to get somewhere. What words do you use? Believe it or not, there are many different ways that people seek information, and it may be interesting to know that this depends on the person, their age, their location, their culture, etc.
- Myself, being a person who knows how SEO and the internet work, often types in words most relevant to my search. (exp. NFL SUNDAY TICKET STREAMING APPLE TV) With that, I’d probably get some pretty straight forward, step-by-step results.
- However, an older or less web-savvy individual tends to use Google as if they were talking to a helpline. (exp “How do I stream an NFL Sunday Ticket on my Apple TV?”) You’d most likely get a relevant answer with this question, especially when it is so specific.
- Even more interestingly though, some people might not know what streaming is (Yes, they are out there.) and will use a more generalized question that would normally be phrased to someone who knows them well and could guess what they were talking about, even if it seemed irrelevant to the current situation. For example, if you were talking to your grandkids from the other room while they were eating their PB & J’s and asking about the game. (exp. “How do I get the Sunday football game today on TV?”) A search engine could easily answer that if they knew things like, what kind of TV you had, whether you had Netflix or some other streaming service, were wanting to buy the ticket, etc. Their original question though is going to come up with A LOT of different results when put into Google.
While each of these searches will lead you somewhere and probably eventually answer your question, one of them will be the best and fastest route to find what you need. The last example is perhaps the most likely to lead you in circles because it is so broad of a question. Mine, which is only probably better because I know how internet search works, brought me up precisely what I needed on the very first page. Unfortunately, as a writer or anyone else trying to incorporate the use of SEO into their life, this is what you are dealing with when attempting to create content for the general public. Three different examples of how people generally search (there could easily be more) and you have to write an article that they will find.
What is then the best way to ensure that all of these individuals will find your content that answers all of their problems by popping up on the first page of their search results? Well, truthfully, there isn’t.
SEO is the practice of knowing who you want to find your article, website, whatever, and how they will be searching for it. THAT is the trick that you need to learn. After that, you can optimize as necessary whether that be through a question, keyword, key phrase, or by making your articles appear in some weird offshoot niche that somehow happens to relate to your target audience. There are millions of ways to do this, it is up to you to choose the best route.
Figure out the type of SEO You Should be Using to Target the Correct Audience
Finding your targeting audience could be covered in an entire article, but for essential SEO learning's sake, we are going to generalize this part.
A few questions to consider:
1. Who are the people you want to find your content? 2. What is their relative age? 3. Are they technologically savvy? 4. Do they know what keywords and SEO are? 5. What do they tend to search for? 6. Do they use social media, blogs, or search engines to find the answer?
Regular Internet Users If they do know how to use the internet and do it often, then they know to use short and to-the-point searches to find what they are looking for. You should find the most relevant short-form keywords and place them as necessary to target this group.
Non-Regular Internet Users
If they aren’t regular internet users they may fall into the long-form question type word searching category. You would then create your content following a question and answer type strategy using long-form keyword phrases.
Social Media Users
Social media users are relatively simple. Hashtags are keywords, so a little simple hashtag research (and you could get specific to your targets preferred platform) would give you relevant hashtags to use in your article. Some hashtags are exclusive to social platform use even, so why not use that to your advantage?
Age playing a factor in SEO
While age often plays a factor in how people search and is more often than not a relatively accurate way to target search terms, it does not always imply that that person falls into that exact category. For example, most young people fall into the short-form keyword searching category. However, some young folks hate computers, work outdoors, or live in places without regular service all day. They’d probably be more apt to ask questions and generalize content like the older age groups who grew up without computers. Older generations you’d think would be the same (unless they developed Google, in which case you would probably need to group them in with the first category) and often act like they are asking the computer search bar for advice instead of attempting to find your well thought out short form keywords.
Know your audience, then research your keywords.
Adapting to Match the Technology
Today, dearest Alexa, we have the newest search machines coming into play, completely destroying the well thought out SEO strategies of yesteryears.
Alexa, in case you didn’t know, is the voice of Amazon’s Echo device. She hooks up to all of your electronics systems and makes your home a “smart” one. You can ask her anything you ever wanted and she’ll find it for you online, or do it for you. (exp. "Alexa, play Pandora." "Alexa, I'd like to order xxx on Amazon." "Alexa, what is the square root of 1,285,334?")
Now comes the tricky part when trying to write SEO geared towards Alexa’s fan club. Question word search terms are usually seen as being asked by older or less technologically savvy folk. On the contrary, the people most likely to buy Alexa are either in the category that hates trying to type on a computer OR, the tech geeks. (No offense guys, I am one.)
"Who cares about Alexa? "
Because you have to ask her things, as opposed to merely typing some words into search, almost any content formulated around long-form question keywords is probably going to be ranking higher in Alexa search terms. No one is going to say, “Alexa, folf disc, buy, near me, cheap.” Most likely they’d say, ”Alexa, where can I buy a cheap folf disc in Denver?” Do you get the picture?
Recognizing this new audience type could present another issue on our quest for the perfect optimization technique. According to our Alexa example, we should be using question type search terms to target either older or technologically savvy folk, but what are these two groups searching for on their preferred search machine? Alexa lovers like to use her for anything from figuring out how to buy things, to having her buy things. The problem with this is that most SEO used when writing product descriptions (targeting people most likely searching to buy) is geared towards using short keywords. Our previous example just proved that we should probably be using questions instead though. Contradictory? Indeed. What did we gather from that long-winded text? The internet, technology, and how people use it are constantly changing. Optimization is keeping up with these changes.
Unfortunately, strategies are morphing and becoming outdated (see example above ^). Do not limit yourself and do not be afraid to think outside of the box. Instead of trying to figure out how to add often searched question terms on Alexa, you should be thinking of why that person is looking for the answer to that question and how they are led there.
We noted the idea of using social media-specific hashtag. If your target customer is always on Instagram, then try and use one of those hashtags as your keyword and get some links up there straight back to your article. If you are writing product descriptions and trying to sell an Amazon Echo, but your potential customer is asking where the cheapest place to buy them is, or if they should, then you should actually be trying to optimize for those questions and figure out how to convince and convert them from there.
What do you think would be most likely to pop up in an Alexa search asking about buying a product? A review article. How does that help you? It’s the start of a funnel, an optimized funnel, and a clue as to what keywords you should form your content around. Write one of those using Alexa type question words and/or write your product descriptions like you would a review. Capture your reader from the start and direct them straight back to where you want them to be, all in one go.
In Summary, Previously, we went over types of audiences and how they searched. As examples, we categorized our question word audiences by age, technological savviness, and other environmental factors. That gave us three different ways to categorize our audience. Three ways they might search, and some randomly obscure viewpoints that could lead to customer conversions. All of that is part of SEO.
The point is that you need to realize who you are writing to before you do anything along the lines of keyword research. Start by asking yourself who your target audience is and how they would most likely find what they are looking for. Then go from there.